I come from the poorest province of South Africa. It doesn’t have the stunning mountains of Cape Town and the Garden Route, the glitz and glamour of Johannesburg, or the tropical greenery of Durban. But it has huge unspoiled swathes of the most glorious white sandy beaches. It has undulating sand dunes, down which I used to sandboard as a teenager. And it has whales.
The southern right whale migrates north from the Antarctic region during the Southern Hemisphere winter months (June – October) to mate and calve. You can see these whales in the Eastern Cape area until about December. The mother passes on the choice of breeding ground to their calves.
Unlike many mammal species, right whale males do not compete aggressively with other for mating rights to a female. Instead, the competition occurs on a microscopic level, whereby the male with the largest testes (therefore able to produce the most sperm) will successfully pregnant a female. The males have huge testes (2.5m in length and 500kg each) and long prehensile (able to move) penises. The mating season in the southern hemisphere is from June to October with a peak in August and the female will give birth to a single calf after a 12-13 month gestation period. The calves are 4-5m in length and 1000kg in weight when born and can grow 3cm in length and 60kg in weight per day making them double in length and increase 5 times in weight in one year. They are able to grow quickly because the mother’s milk is extremely high in fat content and it has been estimated that a calf will suckle 600 litres of milk per day. (source)
They are called the southern right whale because they were considered the right whale to hunt. They are one of the largest animals yet eat the some of the smallest creatures. They have no teeth and are baleen whales because they use so-called baleen plates (like fringes) to filter their food.